Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) reacts to a Georgia fumble during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
- Odds have been released for all Group of Five Conference Championships for the 2021 college football season
- Cincinnati is the heaviest favorite among all teams after finishing 2020 in the top ten of the AP Top 25 Rankings. Boise State returns as a top choice in the Mountain West following a change at head coach
- Read below for opening odds in each G5 conference and an overview ahead of Fall Camp
The 2020 college football season will long be remembered as one of the most unique in modern history due to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Beyond the pandemic, one of the more remarkable trends was the notoriety gained by Group of Five programs throughout the year, as six of them finished in the final AP Top 25 Rankings.
In 2021, teams like Cincinnati, Buffalo and Louisiana have earned more respect on a national level, but many programs projected to finish at the top of their conferences still face tight races heading into the season. The College Football Conference Championship odds have been released, and although there are few surprises at the top of the Group of Five conferences, bettors have some interesting options outside of the favorites.
2021 AAC Championship Odds
All odds within this piece as of June 1st at DraftKings
The Cincinnati Bearcats finished 2020 ranked eighth in the AP Top 25 Rankings, and return as clear favorites to repeat as AAC champions this season.
Bettors looking to make a play with the top teams in the AAC are forced to make a decision between a known commodity and upward potential. The Bearcats’ stingy defense returns a number of starters and playmakers in its back-seven, but does so under new coordinator Mike Tressel.
Any perspective conference winner needs security at the quarterback position, and with senior quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder led all AAC passers last season in completion percentage and finished with the ninth-most rushing yards among all players in the conference.
Only QBs with 50+ Big-Time Throws on deep passes since 2019:
🚀Sam Howell – 59
🚀Dillon Gabriel – 52 pic.twitter.com/E5cxDbNZkl
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 26, 2021
At -230, taking the sure thing in Cincy doesn’t provide much value, but going with UCF at +450 is a more intriguing alternative. The Golden Knights have a dynamic QB of their own in junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who led the conference in passing yards and touchdowns last season.
UCF didn’t get the kind of production on defense it might have expected last season, but a number of young players got some valuable experience. With Gus Malzahn now at the helm, Central Florida should expect some SEC-brand toughness will improve a unit that finished dead last in yards surrendered per game.
2021 MAC Championship Odds
Ball State finished as one of the six Group of Five Teams in the AP Top 25 following its MAC Conference Championship win last season.
In 2021, the Cardinals return as near co-favorites with Buffalo, who rumbled through last season with a punishing ground attack. The Bulls’ leading rusher from 2020, Jaret Patterson, was part of a two-headed rushing attack which will primarily feature senior Kevin Marks this season. Marks averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season, but is going to have to carry the majority of the load on offense because senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease is steady but not exactly spectacular.
Jarret Patterson was a beast for the UB Bulls but this year I cannot wait to see what Kevin Marks can do in the backfield! This past season Marks had 741 yards on 112 carries for 7 TDs. I am going to say he hit 1,700 yards on the ground. He should be drafted too! pic.twitter.com/ERSPMmbffk
— NFL Draft Diamonds (@DraftDiamonds) May 9, 2021
Ball State comes back with most of its roster in tact from last season, but the question facing bettors that want to make a play on a program from the West Division is whether or not the Cardinals will get leap-frogged. Central Michigan and Toledo both offer a bit more juice with +450 odds and a case could be made for either to be the frog in this scenario. The Rockets also retained much of their roster and coaching staff from 2020, and while they had some deficiencies, a play on Toledo is also on the expectations they learned how to fix those issues with much of the same personnel.
2021 Conference USA Championship Odds
|Middle Tennessee State||+3300|
For much of last season, Marshall was one of the best-kept secrets in college football. While the Herd sit atop the preseason odds, they do so after finishing last season with three consecutive losses and a change at head coach.
Marshall comes back with nearly all of its starters from last year’s squad, save for offensive lineman Josh Ball and running back Brendan Knox. The latter was the third-leading rusher in the conference last season, and the backfield now belongs to redshirt junior running back Sheldon Evans, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. Injuries played a big role in Marshall’s end-of-season swoon, and if that happens again, new head coach Charles Huff will have his work cut out.
.@UTSAFTBL’s Sincere McCormick (@yoboisin) has been named a semifinalist for the @DoakWalkerAward!#BirdsUp 🤙 pic.twitter.com/Z4WNdit9dL
— Joel on UTSA MBB (@UTSARowdy) December 7, 2020
UTSA has the feel of the big up-and-coming team, with a solid nucleus of players recruited from the area. Sincere McCormick was the top rusher in the conference, and the Roadrunners were the second-highest producing offense in the league. The potential for chaos in C-USA seems higher than in some other conferences, and those looking to really roll the dice may want to have a look at Rice, who has been a forgettable program for some time and missed a ton of games in response to the pandemic in 2020.
2021 Mountain West Conference Championship Odds
|San Jose State||+450|
|San Diego State||+1400|
Boise State’s stranglehold on the Mountain West should continue on for another season. The Broncos are another top Group of Five program replacing a head coach, but Boise’s history of finding success no matter who is in charge speaks for itself.
The Broncos come back with Hank Bachmeier at quarterback, who has been a capable playmaker for them when he’s been able to stay on the field. Boise struggled more frequently with giving up big plays last season, and if that continues, Bachmeier is going to have to throw more – and open himself up to that many more hits. Whatever concerns can be considered with Boise doesn’t take away from the fact that there is little doubt that it remains the class of the conference.
Just a different lifestyle at #TheQBRetreat pic.twitter.com/1GQFpM8rsE
— Nicholas Starkel (@NickStarkel) June 1, 2021
Perhaps San Jose State could be the wildcard again this season, after showing grit all through a pandemic-ravaged 2020. The Spartans defeated Boise State in the conference title game last season, but come back this year with some questions in the passing game outside of returning starting quarterback Nick Starkel. Those looking for action on a non-chalk team should consider the well-coached Spartans at +450.
2021 Sun Belt Conference Championship Odds
Who would have thought the Sun Belt would be the conference to deliver so much fun in 2020?
After much speculation about whether or not Louisiana head coach Billy Napier or Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell would look to cash in on last season’s success at their respective programs, both return in 2021. Coastal quarterback Grayson McCall was one of the best passers in the nation in 2020 and led a Chanticleers offense that caught everyone by surprise.
Louisiana gained national attention for most of the year after upsetting Iowa State in Week 1, but Coastal handed the Ragin’ Cajuns their first loss in October.
GRAYSON MCCALL MOON BALL 🚀pic.twitter.com/7XDzc6CE4f
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 27, 2020
We were never given a rematch between the two in the conference title game, but it’s no surprise that both teams top the conference odds heading into this season. The big question in the league is whether or not App State can reload with enough pop to make things interesting.
The Mountaineers head into the season with journeyman college passer Chase Brice, who got his start at Clemson and played most recently at Duke, but has yet to really hit his stride since coming out of high school as a top-rated recruit.